Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award
2012 Bartlett Award Winner
Deborah Wasylik, 11th & 12th grade science teacher, Dr. Phillips High School, Orlando, Fla.
“I am extremely grateful to the National Environmental Education Foundation for naming me the recipient of the 2012 Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award... Environmental Educators get the unique opportunity to watch science move young people to take actions that can improve their schools, their communities, their country and perhaps one day, their world. I would like to recognize the amazing students on the EcoAction Team at Dr. Phillips High School. They have a passionate interest in making a difference and have illustrated what Margaret Mead meant when she said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Deborah Wasylik teaches Advanced Placement (AP) environmental science and marine science at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., located on a campus of 3,600 students who speak 46 languages and almost half are enrolled in the federal free or reduced school lunch program. Despite formidable classroom challenges, including pests, structural damage and no science budget, for the past several years Wasylik’s students have scored an average of over 30 points above the national average on their AP exams and their passion for environmental science influences the entire school campus and reaches into the community.
Each year, Wasylik meets with faculty from every department to identify environmental topics of interest to students that can be targeted through specially designed cross-curriculum lessons that help students make real-world connections. For example, students write about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in English class, collaborate with the social studies teacher on lessons covering subjects from Teddy Roosevelt to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and calculate energy savings from the school’s recycling program (formed in partnership with local businesses by Wasylik and her students) in math class. Student learning is reinforced with connections to local examples, including regional Superfund sites, genetically-modified organism (GMO) biotechnology research at the local university and Florida aquifers.
Wasylik does whatever it takes to arrange field trips for her students but also employs the immediate environment for scientific study. Students observe birds on their school campus and study lichens on trees near the busy bus loop. Wasylik transforms the challenges of an urban setting into opportunities for learning and service. In addition to starting a recycling program, Wasylik’s students have created an outreach program centered on the school’s new aquaponics program called “Eduponics” – a curriculum for middle, elementary and high school groups that will introduce the public to aquaponics – a sustainable food production system that combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). Wasylik’s students have voluntarily logged hundreds of community service hours cleaning up beaches, pulling out invasive plants from native habitats, giving tours of the ecosystem section at the Orlando Science Center and removing trash from local roadways.
Seven years ago, Wasylik secured permission from the administration to begin teaching AP Environmental Science, forging ahead without a mentor to put the curriculum together on her own. The AP course has proved so successful that for the past several years, not only have her students exceeded the national passing average, they have the district’s highest passing rate with over 70 percent of Wasylik’s students achieving a 4 or 5 on their exam. Wasylik’s students have learned and applied STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to topics ranging from GMOs to hybrid cars and many pursue STEM-related college studies as a result. Wasylik encourages her students to look for environmental applications in whatever career or major they pursue.
Wasylik is also a recipient of the 2011-2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.